Market report: Festive cheer escapes Matthew Clark as Footsie jumps

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The Independent Online
There was a notable absentee from yesterday's festive march. Matthew Clark, the drinks group, remained firmly in the stock market doghouse; at 260p it is just above its lowest for six years.

There are fears of more profit downgradings. When in September Matthew Clark rocked the market, and the drinks industry, by complaining the alcopops vogue had devastated its cider sales, profit forecasts were sliced from more than pounds 70m to around pounds 50m. The shares, riding high at more than 800p earlier in the year, collapsed.

They are so distressed that the cider and wine group looks ripe for a takeover bid. For some time there have been nagging suggestions that Guinness, the beer and spirit giant which has recently dipped its toe into the cider market, could be interested in swallowing Matthew Clark. But a more intriguing story is now going the rounds - a strike from Philip Morris, the big US group which takes in Millers, the world's second-largest brewer.

Millers, striving to improve its presence in this country, is said to be thinking in terms of building its own British brewery and has earmarked land near Matthew Clark's Somerset heartland.

It could, according to drink trade gossip, see Matthew Clark's distribution network, which includes the Freetraders wholesaling operation, as an important part of its British expansion drive.

Millers beers are now brewed under licence by Scottish & Newcastle. Its big rival, Anheuser Busch, has already exchanged a licence deal for its own brewery, the old Watney's plant at Mortlake, South- west London.

Another intriguing story of takeover action embraced Storehouse. The retailer has been in the dumps largely because of negative comment from Barclays de Zoete Wedd. With stories of a 300p-a-share offer swirling around, the price rose 8.5p to 261p with Seaq putting volume at a remarkably high 18 million shares.

Burton, up 4p at 154.5p, and Kingfisher, 2p higher at 613.5p, were the names in the frame. Talk also drifted around that Storehouse planned a demerger, perhaps hiving off its once stand-alone BhS stores chain.

In busy trading Footsie jumped 33.1 points to 4,051.3, only 21.8 from its peak. It was one of those rare occasions when Seaq turnover soared above 1 billion; tax-efficient bed-and-breakfast trades contributed to the volume.

Railtrack was squeezed 27.5p higher to 398p, a peak, on dividend buying; BTR's revival continued with an 8.5p gain to 273.5p.

Rank fell 25.5p to 416.5p as profit estimates were cut following an investment meeting; GKN lost 35.5p to 1,009.5p after a US legal judgment which could cost up to $554m. Whitbread, off 14.5p to 761p, reflected the departure of chief executive Peter Jarvis, architect of the reshaping of the brewery group.

Manchester Utd, responding to the plan to create an FTSE football sub- section, raced to a 641.5p peak, up 26.5p.

Airtours, aiming to buy Costa Crociere, Europe's largest cruise company, in partnership with its biggest shareholder, Carnival Corporation, climbed 50p to 797.5p.

Dalgety, the pet group, continued to edge ahead, up 4p to 354p, on vague bid talk; Hillsdown was firm at 193p ahead of an analysts' meeting next month.

United News & Media, reflecting SBC Warburg support, gained 23.5p to 683.5p.

Four newcomers scored gains. Crown, an amusement machine group, ended at 80.5p against a 77p placing; Fountain Forestry moved to 84.5p from its 75p placing and Linden, a housebuilder, from 150p to 164.5p. Xenova, a drugs group placed at 215p, edged ahead to 216.5p.

Ruberoid, the building materials group, tumbled 10.5p to 100.5p following a profit warning; it plans to hold its yearly dividend at 6.1p. Hunters Armley, a printer, gained 12.5p to 105p as Panmure Gordon forecast year's profits of pounds 4.8m against pounds 1.8m.

Lanica, the Andrew Regan vehicle, spurted another 150p to 1,250p (after 1,300p); stories go around about a deal with Littlewoods but the company has yet to make a statement.

Bruntcliffe Aggregates gained 2p to 28.5p as Bardon exercised options, acquiring a 22.72 per cent interest. Bardon, itself an old takeover favourite, was unchanged at 33.5p.

Geo Interactive Media added 8p to 61.5p after director David Goldman, chairman of computer group Sage, doubled his shareholding to 100,000, buying shares at 60p; Martin Shelton, a diaries business, rose 4.5p to 74.5p.

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